Chinese Economy: Moving Up in More Ways Than One
Last night, we got in a cab and went over to a restaurant near the Peoples’ Bank of China and the old city gate. We ate outside, on a rooftop terrace, looking out over the city.
We were struck by awe and wonder. In the space of two decades, Beijing has turned into one of the world’s biggest, most dynamic, and most appealing cities.
It is 4 times New York. And five times LA.
But we measure everything against Baltimore…and compared to Charm City…well…nothing is quite like Baltimore. And it’s probably better that way…
Beijing is striking in many ways.
Coming out of the Grand Hyatt, we hopped in a cab and were immediately stuck in a traffic jam. In front of us was a Mercedes Maybach. We have only seen one of these cars before – in Germany. They are such expensive automobiles you rarely see them. And yet, we realized that there was not just one of them in front of us. There was one behind us too. It was as if we had blundered into a government motorcade…stuck between the president of Russia and the president of Dubai (if Dubai had a president).
But this was just an ordinary street scene. And all around were other black, luxury automobiles.
In the shopping mall under the hotel you can find any luxury brand you want. Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Gucci. And you can find dozens of fancy shopping malls in Beijing. Maybe hundreds of them. Looking out on the city lights from our restaurant terrace, we could see the town stretching out for miles in every direction. Office towers, hotels, and apartment buildings – high-rise, low-rise, in between rise – north, east, south and west.
At first, we thought the center of town had probably been the site of huge government-directed investment projects. We expected the rest of the city to be miserable and poor – like the slums of Buenos Aires or ‘the projects’ in Baltimore. Not at all. Everywhere you look you see new buildings…construction cranes…bridges and overpasses…new restaurants…new shops…
When was the last time they built an important new building in Baltimore? We can’t remember. Maybe it was the Ravens’ football stadium. There have been a few piddly structures erected around the harbor. But most of the building stopped with the harbor renewal projects of the ’80s and ’90s.
Even in New York, a new building rises from time to time. But the city hasn’t changed much since the ’20s. It has already been built up and built out.
America is what it is…and what it has been. Now, it is trying to hold onto its place…while China shoulders its way up to the bar.